Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July Edition of The Herb Cottage Newsletter


Why they're important to learn

green line
It might seem like too much work, unneccesary and even downright pretentious to call your plants by their botanical name.


Chamomile, Matricaria recutita
But, think about it. Botanical names are very specific. Each name refers to only one plant. Especially when discussing herbs for medicinal or therapeutic use, knowing the botanical name is vital. It is a matter of safety.

Nicknames for plants are fun, descriptive and for many people easy to remember. They can evoke childhood memories, an admired plant in a friend's garden or conjure up the picture of the plant in your mind. But, they can cause confusion.
Gomphrena Cornflower

Both the flowers above are known as Bachelor's Buttons.... confusing, isn't it?
Learning some of the basics of the binomial system when referring to plants, especially herbs, also gives you very descriptive names, ways to recognize the plant and distinguish it from all others.
All plants, animals, too, are classified by the binomial system.

Carl Linnaeus
Carolus Linnaeus, who gave us Binomial Nomenclature so people speaking different native languages could communicate their scientific information with less confusion.
Picture courtesy of http://linnaeus.nrm.se/botany/fbo/welcome.html.en

Each organism can be uniquely identified by 2 words- the genus and the species. The value of this system is that people who speak in different languages can be sure they are talking about the same plant, for instance, by using the genus and species name in what is now called "modern scientific" Latin.
Coriandrum sativum is cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsleyAs you can see there are several common names for the herb, and by using the botanical name, everyone knows exactly what plant we're discussing. 
The Genus describes the group to which all the like plants belong.Mentha is the genus to which all true mints belong. Each mint has its unique species name.
Spearmint is Mentha spicata
Peppermint is Mentha x piperata.
The "x" indicates that this species is a hybrid or cross between two other mints. In the case of peppermint, it is a cross between M. spicata and M. aquatica. When discussing a particular genus, it is common practice to use simply the first letter of the genus so long as it is clear which genus is being referenced. If you see the "x" in a botanical name, seeds from that plant will likely not come true to type. So, beware anyone selling Peppermint Seeds!
Look at this graphic to help you see how the categories narrow down the description to just one plant.

How do you remember all those Latin names??
I'm often asked.
It's like learning any names. You just learn them. In many instances the botanical name actually gives you a clue as to the characteristics of the plant itself. 
For example: if you see a plant with the species name "alba", that means the flower is white. Here is a short list of some other common colors found in the species name of various plants: 

argenteus- silver, silveryniger- black
coccineus- scarletrubens- red
azureus- sky bluecaeruleus- blue, dark blue
purpureus- purpleviolaceus- violet
aureus- goldluteus-yellow
sempervirens- always greenviridis- green
There are variations on the above words, but these are some very common ones.
Some of the words used for the species name indicate the shape of the leaf, fragrance or taste, markings or how the plant grows. 
alternatus- leaves grow in an alternate pattern on the stem
cordatus- heart shapeddentatus- toothed
erectus- uprightfrutescens- shrubby
globosus- roundreptans- creeping
hirsutus- hairypubescens- downy
fulgens- shinyconcolor- evenly colored
variegatus- variegatedhumilis- low growing
minor- smallscandens- climbing
tortuosus- meanderingverticalis- vertical
Let's look at a few herb names and see if we can decipher the common name from the Botanical one.
Artemisia vulgaris- OK, this is in the Artemisia genus, and it is known as the common or "vulgar" one. If you guessed "mugwort", you're right! 
Mentha suaveolens- Mint (Mentha), sweet smelling is Apple Mint.
Apple Mint
Lavandula dentata- This lavender (Lavandula) has "dentate" or toothed leaves. It's also known as French Lavender
French or toothed lavender
Ulmus rubra- Ulmus is the genus for Elm, and rubra means red or reddishSlippery Elm does have sort of reddish bark.
Slippery Elm
Anethum graveolens- Anethum is the genus for Dill, and graveolens refers to its strong fragrance.
Trifolium pratense- This  time the  Genus also tells us about the plant. Trifoliummeans 3-leavedpratense is from the meadow. It's Red Clover
red clover

Picture courtesy of http://www.uwyo.edu/plantsciences/uwplant/forages/legume/red-clover.html
Pronunciation is sometimes an obstacle to feeling comfortable with botanical names.
No one wants to embarrass themselves in front of another. Just remember that the names are not Latin, but rather 'latinized.' Most people pronounce latinized words as they speak their own language: just by sounding out the syllables.

For more on pronounciation of the botanical names of plants, please go here.

When you learn a little bit about the world of the botanical names of plants, you learn a lot about their characteristics, behavior, time of bloom, leaf markings and more. Don't be afraid of the botanical names of your plants. Learn to read them and know you're learning more about the herbs and plants we love.
For more information about the botanical names of plants, there is a book called A Gardener's Latin from the Editors of Country Living Gardener Magazine. 

Book Cover- A Gardener's Latin
green line


A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.
-Salman Rushdie, writer (b. 1947) 

green line
Until Next Time,
Good Growing to You,
Cindy Meredith, proprietor
The Herb Cottage
442 CR 233
Hallettsville, TX 77964
phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
email: cindy@theherbcottage.com
Visit Cindy's Blog at http://theherbcottage.blogspot.com/

Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Newsletter

Beyond Basil Pesto 

green line
Basil Plants
Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley... get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don't absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don't do what I did one time.... and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn't have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces. 
I reiterate.... wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!!
Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it's very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta. Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they're frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I've never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it's thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!

Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing.
Traditional Basil Pesto
Basil Pesto
Picture courtesy of allrecipes.com

  • 2 cups clean basil leaves (you can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup nuts. Pinenuts are traditional, but I use pecans because they grow here on our farm.
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano, or a blend.
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil. This amount can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.

  • Food Processor:
    Add all ingredients except the oil and process until the ingredients are chopped. Slowly add the olive oil until you have a consistency similar to that of mayonnaise. If you prefer, you can leave your pesto more coarsely processed... it's up to your personal taste.

    This is a little more work than using a food processor, but makes an equally delicious pesto.
    Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the jar adding 1/2 cup oil, the nuts and cheese. Blend (I use the puree setting or high setting.)

    You'll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often. ---See warning above!! 

    After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.
    It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.
    From The Herb Cottage Website
    Basil, Spinach & Walnut Pesto

  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 3 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Basil & Spinach Pesto, Nut Free

  • 4 cups spinach
  • 2 cups basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Cilantro & Parsley Pesto
    Cilantro Pesto
    picture courtesy of seriouseats.com

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • To turn this into a more Southwest flavored pesto try adding the following:

  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 or 2 chopped fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, seeded- or not seeded if you like it very hot

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Arugula Pesto

  • 4 cups (packed) arugula leaves (about 6 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/4 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • Proceed as with directions for Tradional Basil Pesto- using either a food processor or a blender.
    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    Fresh Tomato Pesto
    picture courtesy of Farm Fresh Feasts Beautiful bounty for the freezer!! Great on pizza!

  • 4 medium or 2 large tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup packed basil, parsley, or arugula leaves
  • 1/3 cup salted cashews, almonds, or macadamia nuts
  • 1 clove garlic (or use some roasted garlic, if you like)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Add everything to a food processor or blender and pulse until ingredients are chunky. Then, run on high to puree ingredients. If it's too thick, add a little more olive oil or another tomato.
    Roasted Tomato Pesto
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    Picture courtesy of Oh She Glows
    Yields about 1 cup

  • 9 large roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup almonds, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup tightly packed basil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for roasting the tomatoes
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Heat the oven to 400 deg. F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil- or use a shallow baking dish. Place the tomatoes with the cut side up and brush or spray with olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about an hour, watching carefully during the last 15 mnutes. Remove from oven to cool.

    In food processor or blender, chop the almonds and remove. Then, add the garlic and chop. Next, add the basil and process until chopped. Now add the olive oil, tomatoes and chopped nuts. Process until desired smoothness.

    Pour over cooked pasta and enjoy! Or freeze as directed above.
    Recipe inspired by Oh She Glows.
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    Roasted Red Pepper Pesto
    There is no oil in this recipe making it very low calorie.
    Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 cups sliced roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons water, or more as needed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan- only 8 - 10 minutes, shaking the pan and watching closely so they don't burn.
    Add the pine nuts along with the rest of the ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add a bit more water if pesto is too thick.
    from The Food Network
    Numerous Uses for Pesto
    Pesto Butter Mash:
    3/4 cup pesto into 4 tablespoons softened butter.

    Pesto Chicken Salad:
    Whisk 3 tablespoons pesto with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in 4 cups chopped cooked chicken, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/4 cup each chopped red onion, walnuts and crisp bacon.

    Lemon-Pesto Dip:
    Whisk 1/2 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise, Parmesan and pesto, 2 tablespoons capers and 2 teaspoons each lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper.

    Pesto Hummus:
    Mix 1 cup hummus with 2 tablespoons pesto. Top with chopped mint, toasted pine nuts and a dash of paprika.

    Pesto Croutons: 
    Toss 4 cups bread cubes, 3 tablespoons pesto and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet; bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees F.

    Pesto Panzanella:
    Toss Pesto Croutons with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, some chopped tomatoes and cucumber, sliced red onion and more pesto.

    Pesto-Tomato Soup:
    Cook 3/4 cup chopped shallots and some fresh thyme in a pot with butter. Add 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups water and 1/2 cup cream; simmer 20 minutes. Puree, then stir in 3 tablespoons pesto.

    Pesto Frittata:
    Cook 1 grated zucchini in an ovenproof skillet with butter. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons each pesto and grated Parmesan. Add 6 beaten eggs and cook until almost set, 3 minutes. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven until set, 15 minutes.

    Pesto Salmon Cakes:
    Mix 1 pound cooked flaked salmon with 1 cup panko, 1/4 cup pesto, 1 egg and 1 tablespoon lemon zest. Form patties; cook in an oiled skillet, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve with tartar sauce mixed with pesto.
    Ideas garnered from The Food Network
    Create Your Own Pesto Recipe!
    Use the ideas and proportions from the various pesto recipes to create your own signature pesto. Did you know the word 'pesto' comes from the Italian word 'pestare', which means pound or crush.? Think mortar and pestle- the original way pesto was made.

    Mortar and pestle

    Even today, some people eschew the use of electric appliances and only make their pesto by hand. I must admit, even though we have a lovely ceramic mortar and pestle, I've never made pesto that way. Give me my food processor!!
    Enjoy the summer with fresh pesto made with all the goodness from your garden, farmers' market or CSA.
    green line


    "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."

    Maya Angelou, Poet, Activist- April 4, 1928-May 28, 2014

    Maya Angelou

    green line
    Until Next Time,
    Good Growing to You,
    Cindy Meredith, proprietor
    The Herb Cottage
    442 CR 233
    Hallettsville, TX 77964
    phone & fax: 979-562-2153, cell: 361-258-1192
    email: cindy@theherbcottage.com
    Visit Cindy's Blog at http://theherbcottage.blogspot.com/